Preparing For & Surviving Gaming Expos As An Indie Dev — Part Two: During
Assign People Roles:
Everyone who is going to be at the booth should have some kind of role or roster. For us, this was split into a number of roles — management, press, VR, and line. Depending on your booth, you may or may not need these. We were definitely over rostered and at times we cluttered the space, so we’ll split this time even more in future. We were cautious however, and aware of how quickly we might need extra hands so I’m not surprised it went this way. It also meant we were free to take breaks and also see the occasional panel or browse the floor.
You can see an example of our roster below.
Things Will Go Wrong That Are Not In Your Control
Our neighbours rocked up and had no TV. They had a beautiful, artistic wall with a perfectly sized TV shaped hole in it. Another indie studio arrived to find that their booth literally hadn’t been built. NEVER FEAR. These things will happen, but they will get resolved, and all you can do is bounce back and get onto the convention organisers to find a solution. They got a TV. They got a booth. All will be well.
Someone will break your build. It’s inevitable, and humans are tricky creatures. Hopefully, like us, it won’t be bad — just a reset of SteamVR or your parent program and you’re back on track.
We had one of our deluxe comfort audio straps separate away from the headset slightly and didn’t have a small enough screwdriver on hand to fix it properly, so it was coming loose, making it even harder to hear what was going on with the background sound of the show floor.
All this and more will happen. It is only a problem however, if you make it one. Don’t freak out. Pick your battles. Most things aren’t a huge deal — people are mostly kind and accepting and if you’re honest with them, you’ll be surprised how much room they’ll give you to get things back on track.
I always like to ask myself the following things whenever anything goes wrong:
- Will anyone outside of our team remember this happened in an hour?
- Are people even aware anything has gone wrong?
- Is this worth having a serious discussion with someone about that will mean it has a solution in future?
- Do I need to beat myself up for this? What will that achieve?
If the answers are no, no, no, no, nothing? You’re good. Take a breath, let it go. Get back on track as best you can, be honest with your team, be honest with your attendees.
Keep Things Clean
Horrifyingly, we found out that we were one of the few VR booths who were cleaning all their peripherals. Please don’t underestimate the potential you have as an exhibitor to get other people, as well as yourself, sick. If you’re using VR, you need to wipe down your controllers, headset, and headphones after every player. If you’re using a keyboard and mouse, try and keep them clean with a quick wipe between players where you can. It’s a nice thing to do and it helps keep the PAX pox at bay.
When you’re moving through person after person after person, you’ll find mess starts to accumulate pretty quickly — especially if you are wiping things down. We used anti-bacterial wipes and if a bin wasn’t close by and someone was in VR, it was very hard to get rid of it. It meant we ended up with little piles of wipes and paper towel, and it just wasn’t pleasant to look at. Try and have enough bins in enough strategic places — e.g. if you have wrapped bags of merch you need to unwrap, make sure a bin is nearby.
Also — keep your cupboards organised! In my and my teams madness, we ended up throwing a lot of our containers and materials into the cupboard haphazardly. Thankfully, it wasn’t too much of a problem, but don’t be like us. Be better. I BELIEVE IN YOU.
Take Care Of Yourselves — And Each Other
Make a booth kit that contains everything you might need — lozenges, mints, panadol, tissues — all the peripherals you may not have a chance to run out and get and anything you can think of. Include everything! Rubber bands! At least five different kinds of tape (you WILL use it all. I promise. You’ll think you won’t. You WILL.)
Share around Vitamin C (we used gummies because we’re adults) and Berocca and mints and everything else with your booth neighbours at the start of the day. Everyone is exhausted, give your body the best chance you can, and look after each other.
Jump at opportunities!
It is so important to capitalise on all the awesome opportunities PAX can provide, especially when you’ve invested time, energy and money. There’ll be some you’re not prepared for that will surprise you. For example, I was definitely not prepared for Channel 10 to put a camera in my face and ask me a bunch of really interesting and complex questions about VR and revenue and the Australian gaming industry. I would however, have been insane to say no. It’s amazing press for our industry, for the game, and for the studio.
If you’re uncomfortable doing these things, find someone who isn’t and get them to be a spokesperson for you. If someone wants to interview you, get someone to cover the booth for five minutes (a neighbour even!) if you don’t have someone who can cover you personally.
For another example, Vive ran a promo encouraging people to try VR games and gave us some cards and stickers the morning of. If you went to six Vive experiences at PAX, you won a prize.
Worked for us to use them — we got to support them and they supported us in turn.
Manage The Line:
If you have one, it’s a great problem to have. Wherever possible, have someone who can reset the clock for those people waiting by having a quick chat to them about their day.
Psychologically, by saying “thanks for waiting” rather than sorry for the delay, you not only reset the amount of time a person feels like they’ve been waiting, but they feel appreciated and respected rather than inconvenienced.
Language has a huge impact, so don’t be careless with it. The people in your line could be anywhere, seeing anything, and they chose here — so be kind and inclusive and give them the time of day.
Run A Competition:
People are by nature, pretty competitive. If your game has a competitive element you’re already in a great position. Keep a leaderboard! This will encourage people to return to your booth even if they’ve already seen it and potentially bring friends. We should have invested in a timer to keep a “best time” score as well as our normal timer for tracking demo length, as we were surprised how much people wanted to beat their friends time.
We ran a colouring competition which initially was slow to take off, but ended up being a lot of fun. Not only was it super invigorating seeing everyone’s outside of the box ideas, but we now get to give someone an awesome prize and put the character they designed into the game. That’s just as cool for us as it is for them.
Don’t Write People Off!
Gamers and game developers have a tendency to be a little judgemental, and a little snobby about what games people might like. Just because someone is at the expo with their kids, or is over a certain age, or whatever other superficial factor we might notice, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t personally enjoy being included. Parents especially get a crappy deal a lot of the time with these events, so be inclusive! Ask them if they want to try!
My favourite part of the whole three days was a friend of ours from @BondiLabs who had playtested for us in the past bringing by his Mum to the booth. She had never played a VR game before, but not only that… she’d never played a GAME before. We managed to convince her to give it a shot and she loved it and was so stoked that she’d tried, and that feeling for me is the entire reason I’m in this industry. Give people a chance to love your game — you might just get some feedback that changes your world!
You’ve worked so hard to get here. Don’t let it pass you by.
Take a moment, take a breath, and watch someone love the game you put your heart and soul into. It’s so so worth it.
You can continue to read part three, AFTER, which includes a breakdown of costs and some extra resources here.